In 2002, Carol Realini, who retired from the corporate world, visited an African village on a philanthropic mission. While there, she sauntered into a mobile phone store where Africans were re-loading their pre-paid cell phones for calling. Little did she know her visit would turn into a mobile payments business.
While watching, she immediately noticed both a problem (no bank accounts or credit cards) and a solution (mobile payments) that would eventually change how people without banking services pay bills.
On the largest continent, people could use their phones to send money to others.
In my podcast interview with Carol, she tells her story of discovery–another time in her life when the she immediately realized the potential of the “mobile phone changing everything.” Those mobile stores could become “virtual banks” by loading currency on devices people carry with them everywhere.
For Carol, it was “too big of an opportunity” and she left the store with a vision about a “whole new realm of financial services” available to millions of Africans.
Her mission became creating mobile money. Like Herman Heunis of MXit in South Africa, Carol’s plan was disruptive. What she proposed to do would forever change how people exchange money in India, Africa and the United States.
Coming “out of retirement,” Carol consulted with many and came up with technological solutions that turned her dream into reality, eventually resulting in a company called Obopay.
Working with partners like Nokia, Mastercard, Citibank, AT&T, Verizon, Rim and others, Obopay crafted a solution first for working families in the U.S. who found it convenient to send mobile money to kids and teenagers not carrying plastic.
The eight million small businesses–plumbers, hairdressers and others who needed an alternative way to receive money–became Obopay’s second target market.
The advantages for small business owners–faster payments and reduced credit card transaction fees–were easily communicated. U.S. Banks, which had been studying how to increase consumer engagement with mobile, were equally intrigued.
They’re multiple ways to sign up for Obopay service. For iPhone owners the Obopay app is available through the Apple App Store. Other mobile users can sign up on the Obopay website or find a branded solution through their banks.
Next came India, a vast country of 600 million mobile users where the company had partners and a presence.
India became a perfect storm for mobile payments. 90% of all transactions are in cash and only 41% of the population has access to banks, compared to 14% cash transactions in the U.S.
Operators love mobile payment services as it increases the ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) by $1 or more and reduces churn rates.
Enter Africa where only 5% of the entire population has a bank account and it becomes clear why Obopay targeted two of its countries: Kenja and Senegal.
Kenya in East Africa is “the Silicon Valley of banking,” with a population of 38 million and ten million bank customers.
Senegal in Western Africa offered additional opportunities.
Following its go to market strategy, Obopay partnered with yuCash in Kenja and Yoban’tel in Senegal.
Future of Mobile Payments and other Mobile Banking Services
Carol believes that mobile is helping banks become more efficient and “more relevant” as they offer new, innovative services to their customers. Mobile will drive new products and services, creating revenue streams, as banks improve customer engagement with prepaid and money transfer services.
Other comments, stats and predictions:
- The mobile transaction market is so huge it offers room for multiple players. Yearly worldwide electronic transactions total $7-$10 TRILLION
- Competitors are generally local to each country or region leaving plenty of open territory for mobile payment service and technology companies. Companies that win in their markets will be those that understand customer needs.
- PayPal in the U.S., which has traditionally catered to merchant accounts, most likely will adopt a similar mobile strategy. (Both Obopay and PayPal are service providers–not technology companies like Fundamo in South Africa that provides software solutions for service companies.)
- “The competition is cash”–not the other players in this market space
- In five to ten years, mobile payments will achieve high adoption among consumers in developing and developed countries.
- Brazil, Russia, China and Mexico offer growth opportunities for players that understand these markets
- According to Portio Research, by 2011 mobile commerce payments are estimated to climb to $86.6 billion
- Nielsen predicts 27% of all U.S. payments by 2012 will still be cash
Listen to the podcast interview for further information about Obopay and the future of mobile payments.
Obopay and Carol Realini
Obopay offers financial institutions an open, trusted, secure mobile payments service on three continents by turning any mobile phone into a convenient and easy way to send and receive money. Obopay’s mobile payment services launched in the United States in 2005, India in 2008, Kenya in 2009, and most recently, in Senegal.
The company partners Nokia, Rim, MasterCard, Citibank, AT&T, Verizon and others. Obopay powers the MasterCard MoneySend service in the U.S., Nokia’s Money initiative in India, yuCash in Kenya, and Yoban’tel in Senegal.
Carol Realini, founder and CEO, an entrepreneur with three decades of technology experience, pioneered delivering affordable access to financial services through mobile technology.
She first envisioned a mobile payments company when, in Africa, she witnessed people who were without wallets or bank accounts but had mobile phones. By leveraging the mobile Internet, Carol realized she could create a low cost banking service for people in both developed and emerging markets around the world.
Carol has a BA from University of California, Santa Cruz, and a MS from San Jose State University.
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